BE YOND THE CL A S SROOM
ith diagnoses of autism continuing their alarming ascent, parents across the country are turning to behavior analysts to help their children master the communication and social interaction skills that are critical to the successful navigation of everyday life. We invited faculty from The Chicago School’s Applied Behavior Analysis Department to discuss how ABA is used in treating this disorder, what challenges face families struggling with autism, and what hopes they have for their clients. Joining Dr. Traci Cihon and Dr. John Smagner for this dialogue was Ann Sturtz, a second-year student in the program.
Dr .Tr ac i c i h o n
Dr . J o hn smag ne r
INSIGHT: What do you think is the greatest myth about the autism diagnosis? sturtz: One of the things that people ask me about the kiddos that I work with is ‘Can they play the piano really well?’ or ‘Can you ask them what this date was in 1570?’ One of the greatest myths is that people with autism are very similar to one another. People assume that they all do the same things, and can’t do the same things… they go back to the Rainman analogy. I find that surprising because of the amount of media attention and the increase in programs that address autism.
Dr. Smagner: There is a common misconception that children are not social and that they don’t like to be touched. I have never personally worked with a child with autism that didn’t like to be touched, though I do believe they exist. Dr. Cihon: Or that they don’t like other people…that they don’t know that other people exist. Dr. Smagner: You know, the nature of the disorder is that they have social skill deficits but they are not naturally avoidant or unsocial. Dr. Cihon: I guess the bigger misconception that I come in contact with is not specific to autism, but specific to ABA. The one that I’m responding to quite frequently is, ‘Isn’t ABA just for autism?’ And I have to respond, obviously ‘No, behavior analysis applies to any behavior that an individual exhibits. Autism is getting a lot more attention in the media now and ABA is the most effective intervention that we have empirical support for.
INSIGHT: A child with autism has been referred to you for treatment. Walk me through the mechanics in creating an ABA program for this child. Dr. Cihon: The first thing I’m
ann S T U r tz
going to do is gather information. I’m going to talk to people, in particular parents, other individuals involved in the child’s life. Then I’m going to see what is going on in the environment, what the child is doing, and what happens before particular behaviors and what happens after particular behaviors occur. I am going to look for patterns in what I’m recording. I’ll look at the trends before we do anything, before there’s an intervention in place, and then I’m going to try something–not just something I pull out of the air, but that’s been empirically researched and supported, and that I know has this particular effect on the behavior. I am going to watch and see what happens to make sure that the child has the change that we like to see. And if that doesn’t work, I’m going to make a change. Dr. Smagner: We think about autism and all the deficits associated with it. I would say the fundamental deficit is language; so when I go into a new home, I want to assess the child’s imitation skills, because I think language development necessitates an imitative repertoire. I’m going to access receptive language, do they follow instructions… very simple instructions… instructions that in the natural environment would keep the child safe, like saying to the child ‘Come here.’ Dr. Cihon: The other thing I’d want to know is, how are they getting their wants and needs met? Are they looking, are they reaching, are they pulling someone over? Dr. Smagner: Are they tantruming?
Published on Jan 14, 2009